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Enumclaw parks and recreation director considered by City Council

A proposal to return a parks and recreation director to the roster of city employees had its first public airing during the most-recent gathering of the Enumclaw City Council.

The city has done without a parks and recreation director since the summer of 2010, keeping the position vacant throughout the Great Recession as a cost-saving measure. Instead, the city opted for a less-expensive manager for the Enumclaw Expo Center, while shifting myriad other duties into the workload of various department heads.

With the recent resignation of Kristen Damazio, there’s no one left to focus on the Expo Center, which is rapidly running short of operating capital.

The entire parks and recreation operation, including the Expo Center, was brought into focus April 14 when City Administrator Chris Searcy forwarded a plan to reinstate a position at “department head” status. Filling such a role would cost the city an estimated $120,000 annually, considering both wages and benefits.

The administration’s request was neither accepted nor rejected. Instead, the council – which was hearing the proposal for the first time – asked that the issue be reviewed by a subcommittee that deals exclusively with Expo Center issues.

In making a pitch for returning a parks and recreation director to the city’s upper management, Searcy noted there have been major developments since 1993, when the first director joined the city ranks. Aside from taking over the golf course, swimming pool and county fairgrounds (now the Expo Center), the city has acquired or developed six additional parks. Joining the list of city holdings since 1993 have been Sportsmen Park, Farmer’s Park, Elk Meadows Park, Mahler Park, Ellenson Park and Rotary Centennial Park.

While plenty of needs persist, Searcy made it clear the No. 1 priority for a new parks and recreation director would be oversight of the Expo Center, specifically marketing and event management. The immediate focus would be necessary, according to an administrative memo, “to recruit events and rentals of Expo facilities and maintain existing levels of revenue flow to remain financially solvent through 2014.”

The memo also noted a new park and recreation director would take a lead role in working with the council’s Expo Committee and an independent Expo Center Advisory Committee to craft a vision and mission for the multipurpose grounds on the eastern edge of the city.

The future of the Expo Center has raised major questions and concerns, as a stockpile of money that came with the grounds has been spent nearly to zero. Councilman Darrel Dickson, who heads the council’s Expo Committee, noted that an operating account will likely be depleted by the close of the calendar year.

Searcy’s memo noted a handful of advantages to hiring a parks and recreation director. Among those were a single, identified champion for all things related to parks and the Expo Center; someone to write grants for departmental funding; and a decreased burden on other department directors who have absorbed traditional parks and recreation duties.

The memo included a single “con,” that being an increase in general fund expenditures. Figuring a hiring date of June 1, the assumption is the new hire would cost the city roughly $70,000 for the remainder of 2014. Some money has already been budgeted, but another $40,000 would have to be appropriated.

That sum, according to Searcy’s memo, could be taken from a reserve fund.

Should a parks and recreation director be brought on board, that person would eventually be responsible for the Expo Center, pool and golf course, as well as overseeing recreation programs, park maintenane and park system planning. The person also would manage contracts in place for the stadium, cemetery and youth center. Also under the parks and recreation banner would be the city’s arts and cultural services efforts.

Those other duties would gradually be added, Searcy noted, only after the Expo Center picture was brought into focus.

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